One of the two Libyans accused of the Lockerbie bombing has been convicted of murdering all 259 people on the plane and another 11 who died on the ground, said reports on Wednesday.
The guilty verdict on Abdelbaset Ali Mohammad Al Megrahi was delivered after a 84-day trial under Scottish law in the Netherlands.
The verdict came as a shock to Libyan jurists interviewed by Al Jazira satellite channel. One of them accused the court of politicizing the case. According to a report by the station on Tuesday, a not-guilty or not proven verdict was expected by observers.
Megrahi now faces life imprisonment in Scotland. Megrahi's co-accused, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, was found not guilty and has been told he is free to return home, reported BBC.
"You are now discharged and free to go," presiding judge Ranald Sutherland was quoted by AFP as telling Khalifa Fhimah. The tense courtroom was packed with relatives of the 270 people who died, most of them Americans, said the agency.
After hearing the evidence, three judges took 12 days to consider the mass of evidence and the testimonies of more than 300 prosecution witnesses and issued unanimous verdicts on the two men, who were charged with causing a bomb to be placed on Pan Am flight 103 on 21 December 1988, killing 259 passengers and crew, and 11 residents of the Scottish town of Lockerbie, where the plane crashed 38 minutes after take-off.
Megrahi, 48, and Fhimah, 44, were alleged to have used their respective covers as head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines and station manager at Luqa airport in Malta to commit the crime.
The two Libyans, allegedly members of their country's intelligence service, were eventually brought to trial in May 2000 under a deal with the Libyan government, which insisted that trial take place on neutral soil and agreed that it be held in accordance with Scottish law.
They were charged with causing a suitcase containing a Toshiba Bombeat radio cassette recorder packed with high-performance plastic explosive to be loaded onto a flight to Frankfurt.
There, it joined a feeder flight to Heathrow, where it was stowed in one of the jumbo jet's baggage holds, the prosecution said.
The defendants were accused of the bombing after two years of the incident. Initially, Syria and Iran were the main suspect behind the mass slaughter.
Throughout the $60m-trial, the two men insisted they had no connection with the bombing and pleaded not guilty; meanwhile their lawyers pointed accusing fingers at the Damascus-based Palestinian faction, The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, headed by Ahmad Jibril, who denied the accusation or any involvement in the atrocity.
The lawyers said the PFLP-GC carried out the bombing, probably on behalf of Iran in revenge for the shooting down of an Iranian civilian Airbus earlier in 1988 by the American warship USS Vincennes.
LIBYA RESPECTS, US WELCOMES THE VERDICT, CONVICT TO APPEAL
Libya "respects the decision of Scottish justice and the verdict handed down" in the Lockerbie airliner bombing trial, a Libyan foreign ministry spokesman told AFP Wednesday.
The spokesman, Hassuna al-Shawsh, declined to comment on the acquittal of the other defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, in the trial before Scottish judges in a special court in the Netherlands.
The agency also reported that a senior US official welcomed a Scottish court's guilty verdict against Megrahi , but stressed that the case was not closed.
"The investigation continues to determine who else may have been involved in this act of terrorism and to bring that individual, or those individuals to justice," acting Deputy Attorney-General Bob Mullen told reporters here early Wednesday.
"The case is not closed," he added.
For Leo Gallagher, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who led part of the investigation, the verdict elicited "a lot of mixed emotions."
Gallagher told AFP he was pleased all the police work on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean "has proved to be accurate; that we have identified the person who is responsible for these 270 murders."
However, he added, on seeing the grief of the families of the victims, the outcome of the trial did not bring "a sense of satisfaction because there are still 270 innocent people who were murdered on that day."
Meanwhile, Megrahi, will appeal, according to the agency, citing a live report by Libyan television from Camp Zeist in the Netherlands where the verdict was pronounced.
A television reporter said al-Megrahi would lodge an appeal "within two weeks."
The BBC said that the convicted libyan “was consulting with his lawyer for an appeal “– Albawaba.com
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